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Cootie Williams was an integral part of Duke Ellington’s band and a valued soloist from 1929-1940. He replaced trumpeter Bubber Miley whose plunger mute and growl contributed to the Ellington band’s distinctive sound. Williams was able to expand on that role with his superior technique and has influenced players such as Wynton Marsalis. His brilliant open horn playing is featured in many of Ellington’s recordings, including “Concerto for Cootie” which Ellington wrote for him when he left the band, following it up with “New Concerto for Cootie” when he returned. During his years with Duke, Williams frequently recorded on his own with artists such as Teddy Wilson, Billie Holiday, and Lionel Hampton or other fellow Ellingtonians.

After playing with Benny Goodman for a year, Williams led his own bands from 1942 until 1959 and employed some of the hot young players of the day such as Bud Powell, Arnett Cobb, “Lockjaw” Davis, and Eddie Vinson before veering off into R&B in the later years. One of the band’s first recordings featured Pearl Bailey on vocals.

Williams collaborated with Thelonious Monk on “Round Midnight,” introducing it in 1944 when it became the band’s theme song. In 1948 when times became tough for big bands, Williams reduced the group to a sextet that played the Savoy Ballroom for eleven years. He and Ellington cornetist Rex Stewart recorded two successful albums in 1957 and 1958, The Big Challenge and Porgy and Bess Revisited. He rejoined Ellington in 1962 and stayed with the band even after Duke’s death in 1974 when son Mercer Ellington took over.

-- Sandra Burlingame

Courtesy of JazzStandards.com

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